August 7, 2019

Success In Anything Is Built Slowly - Even Retirement

You are familiar with stories of actors who achieve "instant stardom" after fifteen years of hard work. Thomas Edison spent 14 months of testing to get a light bulb that lasted less than 14 hours. Hard work and time are usually required before the payoff. Still, as a society we expect instant gratification, instant solutions, instant success, even instant mashed potatoes. Are those expectations realistic? 

For most of us, most of the time, the answer is "No."  It is more likely that some or all of these five steps will have to be taken. It doesn't matter if you run a business, write a blog, want to maintain a marriage, or simply want to maximize your own potential. Every one of these strategies applies, even in retirement:

You must offer something of value
You may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, but they will not come back. If you try to sell an inferior product you will be out of business. If you think you don't need to work at making your marriage succeed but believe your partner needs to do all the work, you are headed for divorce court. Write a blog with below-average content and you will probably be writing for an audience of one.

Value isn't apparent immediately. For someone to judge value there has to be a period of time when you prove again and again that a consistently good outcome is associated with you.

You can't simply copy what someone else has done
Over the years I have spent a lot of time reading various blogs. looking at how others do what I am trying to do. It is impossible not to notice how many blogs basically copy each other. There are probably 1,000 simple living or minimalist blogs. Maybe 100 of them are original in content, approach, and feel. The rest recycle the same stale list of tips and ideas. 

Guess which ones are successful. Hollywood and TV networks are shameless in copying someone else's ideas. Reality shows went from a new idea to completely overdone and absurd in very short order. One hit movie will generate a dozen copycats (or sequels...think Avengers, or Star Wars).

In whatever you are doing, true success comes from something unique about your product, idea, or method. Unless your name is Xerox, copies aren't an acceptable approach. Look for that angle that makes you stand out. Don't repeat someone else's life, mold your own.

You must keep commitments
Keeping a promise has become somewhat of a rarity in many aspects of our life. Politicians will make campaign promises they have no intention or ability to keep. Health insurance companies try to drop you if you really need the protection you have paid for. Someone will make a commitment to you and break it without a moment's hesitation if it becomes inconvenient for them.

When you make a commitment to someone you must do everything in your power to keep it. If you promise to stay with a spouse "until death do us part," that doesn't give you much wiggle room. It  shouldn't mean you can split when things get a little tough or you've gotten bored. When you promise to complete a project in a certain way under a certain budget, then that's what you do. When you agree to head the church stewardship committee you agree to give it the best you have. You teach English as a second language twice a week at the library and show up every time because you know people are depending on you. Success will follow. You will be a person who can be trusted, can be depended upon.  

You must follow up after the sale.
How many times have you been involved in any type of transaction in which the seller only cared about closing the deal? They did nothing to insure you'd be happy after the sale. The only thing that mattered was your signature on the dotted line. They didn't care about turning you into a repeat customer.

As any successful business person knows, the sale is just the first step. Keeping a customer is much cheaper than constantly finding new buyers. Attracting readers to your blog doesn't mean you have succeeded, they must return. Building a beautiful wooden cabinet for someone doesn't mean you are done. It opens the door for more.  Success takes time, it takes building a firm foundation of delivering more than you promised. You must constantly strive to do something better than you did yesterday.

You must set goals but remain flexible.
If you don't know where you want to go, any road will take you there. This saying is absolutely true. Without goals you have no plan. You don't know where you want to go. You have no way to measure progress. You are depending on luck to make everything come out right. You are living like a casual gambler in Las Vegas who hopes just one more quarter in the machine will be the difference.

Goals are essential to success, in life, in business, in relationships, and certainly in retirement. Goal setting forces you to think through what you want and how you will get there. At the same time, you must remain flexible. Things change all the time. New opportunities open, old ones close. If you rigidly adhere to goals without making mid course adjustments you will not succeed.

Success doesn't just mean monetary gain. In life, success covers all aspects of your existence. To fail is not a usual goal of anyone in anything. But, success takes dedication, will power, and an understanding of yourself. It doesn't just happen, you must make it happen for a satisfying retirement or a satisfying life.

Care to share any of your "living" success secrets?


  1. Having the ability to follow the strategies you mention depends much on one's character. What seems to be more common than ever in today's society are the desire for instant gratification and the tendency to shrug off responsibility. Honest, hard-working people with integrity will take these strategies to heart and, most likely, achieve success through them. I thought that was an excellent post, Bob - nicely done!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Mary. You are correct: these guidelines require dedication and work. I don't agree that many of us are taking the easy path by avoiding responsibility. Rather, what may have made sense to us has undergone changes to match today's reality. Example? Home ownership and a trust that one's employer cares about his/her employees. Today, neither of these "given" really work like they once did.

      That said, the steps above work in this new paradigm, too. However it is defined, success is not achieved without work, dedication, and persistence.

  2. 'Under promise, over deliver' - That is very much my guiding principle in retirement, and it serves me well. As I get older, rather than 'tell' everything, I prefer to quietly over deliver. Whether it's a new hiking group, a social activity I'm in charge of, or a volunteer position I'm filling, it works, and makes life easier. In contrast, imagine if I did the opposite instead - Over promised and under delivered - even in retirement I'd soon lose all credibility!I

    I also pick and chose my obligations very carefully, even the fun ones, to make sure I can properly deliver. With age and wisdom, I no longer feel obligated to say 'yes' just because I'm asked. I help and volunteer over here, you help and volunteer over there, and at the end of the day it all balances out. So i guess that's my second living success tip!

    1. "Under promise, over deliver" was the mantra of my approach to my career. Especially in a business like mine, personal relationships and keeping one's word were essential. Grand, sweeping promises that didn't materialize would have wrecked things in short order.

      I have a post about volunteering in a week or so that makes the same point you have stated: balance requests with ability and time. Pick your "battles" for a win-win outcome.

  3. I'm forwarding this post to my kids. Because, from me, this advice would sound preachy. But from you it sounds sensible!

  4. I've whittled my blog reading down to a few, because, as you say, a lot of them aren't interesting. They have to be compelling to make it worth trading my time for.

    And I agree that commitments are easily broken in this day and age. That's not how I was raised, and so I try to be more careful what I commit to as I age. My volunteer work is satisfying, but I also know after 18 months that I am inclined to take on too much. So I'm working at that. Great post!

  5. Interestingly, I am in a bit of a volunteer lull. I am on the Board of Directors for our Friend of the Library organization. That is gratifying but involves mostly meetings and planning.

    I need to find something else that is more physical. I have taught Junior Achievement classes the last few years but am likely to take a break this fall. Maybe helping at a pet shelter would fit me.

    Making and keeping commitments seem to be part of being an adult. Why they have fallen into disfavor in many aspects of life is somewhat puzzling.

  6. I have found myself in the situation of having overcommitted by jumping into too many things. When I agree to something, think it’s going to be fine because it’s in a time slot that is not already taken, but the problem occurs when something from one of my groups happens unexpectedly and encroaches on the time set aside for another commitment. I have the tendency to think I can do more than I actually can do.